The Channakeshava Temple was commissioned in 1116 to commemorate the Hoysalas’ victory over the neighbouring Cholas. It took more than a century to build, and is currently the only one among the three major Hoysala sites still in daily use – try to be there for the ritual puja ceremonies at around 8.45am and 6.45pm.
Some parts of the temple, such as the exterior lower friezes, were not sculpted to completion and are thus less elaborate than those of the other Hoysala temples. However, the work higher up is unsurpassed in detail and artistry, and is a glowing tribute to human skill. Particularly intriguing are the angled bracket figures depicting women in ritual dancing poses. While the front of the temple is reserved for images depicting erotic sections from the Kama Sutra, the back is strictly for gods. The roof of the inner sanctum is held up by rows of exquisitely sculpted pillars, no two of which are identical in design.
An absolute must see destination in any cultural tour of India, Belur, located on the banks of the river Yagachi in Hassan district, was the capital of the powerful south Indian dynasty of the Hoysalas. Also known as the Banaras of the South, “Dakshin Varanasi”, and the place is home to the awe-inspiring Chennakesava Temple, a fine specimen of Hoysala architecture.
17 km away is another splendid attraction of Halebid which was the Hoysala capital before Belur. Previously known as Dwarasamudra, the place is famous for the Hoysaleswara temple which is a cultural extravaganza. While visiting these destinations, don’t miss Sravanabelagola for the gigantic statue of Gometashvara.Scattered around the temple complex are other smaller temples, a marriage hall which is still used, and the seven-storey gopuram, which has sensual sculptures explicitly portraying the activities of dancing girls.
Guides can be hired for Rs.250; they help to bring some of the sculptural detail to life.
Hotel Mayura Velapuri, a state-run hotel gleaming with post-renovation glory, is located on the way to the temple, and is the best place to camp in Belur. The restaurant-bar serves a variety of Indian dishes and snacks (?70 to ?90) to go with beer. The cheaper Sumukha Residency is another option.
There’s an Axis ATM on the road leading to the temple.
There are buses to/from Hassan (?24, one hour), 38km away, every half-hour.